The trip to the shipping lane took a little less than two days, as Chevalier’s mental clock counted it. His sense of time would get fuzzier eventually, but for now he still had a decent circadian rhythm that anchored his thoughts.
He’d slept twice during the trip, and had been more than a little happy each time he’d woken up afterwards. Despite his sincere belief that Kellen wouldn’t take the opportunity to seek revenge for the death of his brother, he hadn’t been completely certain and had slept pretty lightly with a blaster near to hand. Admittedly, such a small weapon wouldn’t have really had any impact on Kellen’s armor, but he could do a good bit of damage to the Spitfire with it. Mutually assured destruction was as good a deterrent as anything out in the Empty. Thankfully, it hadn’t been necessary and Chevalier felt himself relaxing a bit around the Chillsword.
That was thanks to Selene.
She’d taken a shine to Kellen, and it was clear that the Chillsword was intrigued with the dragon at the least. The two of them talked – well, really it was just Selene chattering and Kellen answering her barrage of questions or grunting that he was still listening, but that probably still counted – and Chevalier was free to fixate on the dozens of little things that kept their trip smooth. Keeping the engines balanced, accounting for the strange pulses of energy that knocked the ship to one side or the other from time to time, restoring cameras that stopped working due to a faulty connection, things like that. It was boring, quiet work that normally was made far more difficult by Selene’s yapping, but with her focus on Kellen, Chevalier breezed through each task and their trip was easier than any in recent memory.
Bartholomew, or more honestly, Hurkwin, had done a pretty good job on the ship’s repairs. He hadn’t really noticed it before, but the Spitfire had definitely developed a minor rocking before he’d docked at Junkheap. Now that it wasn’t there, Chevalier felt a bit unsteady as he walked around the deck. It was odd, the way that the lack of something was far more noticeable than its presence had been in the first place.
He looked out at the horizon, taking comfort from the inky blackness of space and the pale glow of stars, planets and stations far in the distance. They’d passed a few ships here and there as they traversed the well-protected Imperial lanes, but none had hailed them, and Chevalier hadn’t felt much like starting the conversation himself. Some of them flew the flags of local planets, others sailed under the protection of various guilds or factions, and there was even an Aguelot vessel broadcasting Imperial news.
A few small therzons fluttered past the Spitfire’s main camera, and Chevalier watched the reptile-bird things bob and weave in seemingly random patterns. He smiled. Chevalier had always liked therzons. Even during his days as a novice, they’d inspired him. That such small creatures could survive the ravages of space was incredible, as was the fact that they ventured so far into the Empty, perpetually migrating to some mythical roost. Somehow they managed to avoid the attention of the great beasts that slumbered between stars and avoided being eaten. In their own way, therzons were the natural wanderers and adventurers of space that humans and all other peoples did their best to emulate.
Kellen came into the cockpit and stood behind Chevalier. Chevalier turned and pointed at the console to his right.
“If you’re going to be in here, stand where I can see you.”
Kellen did as requested, but there was a definite note of satisfaction in his voice as he responded with “Why? Are you worried that I may not be as pragmatic as you thought?”
Chevalier shrugged. “It’s crossed my mind, I’ll admit. You’re here against your will because your new owner told you to come along. Add that to the fact that I killed your brother and you have a pretty decent case for being justified in wanting me dead.”
“Well, that’s good to know. I’m glad you’re not as stupid as you seem. However, you don’t need to worry. My brother and I were…not particularly close. Back on Junkheap, it was more that I was shocked. I’d never felt rage like that before I mean, I’d heard that we were prone to fits of uncontrollable rage, but I thought that with everything…I thought I’d never experience it.”
“Who experiences fits of rage? I’ve never heard of Chillswords being particularly emotional.”
“Heh. That’s not what I meant. Let me show you.”
There was a hiss and Kellen reached up to his helmet. He clasped it with both hands and lifted it away from the armor. It looked heavy, even dwarfed as it was in Kellen’s gauntlets. Without the helmet, Chevalier found himself looking at a leathery face with two knobby horns, a pierced septum, and wide bovine features that Chevalier didn’t have to have seen before to recognize. Kellen was a Taurolk. Descended from ancient guardians of labyrinths, Taurolk had taken to space and become more modernized guardians. The winding walls of stone from their history had been replaced by sprawling paths of stars, but ultimately, Taurolk performed the same tasks that they always had.
“Before you ask,” Kellen said, noticing the expression on Chevalier’s face, “no, not all Chillswords are Taurolk. Many of us decide to enter the corps, but we are far from the only species that gravitates to mercenary work. The company can build anyone to become a proper Chillsword, and they do.”
“Yeah. Build. Afraid that I can’t say more than that. Physically and mentally, every member is modified and reconstructed to be the perfect soldier, the perfect weapon. The specifics are a Plagtos secret, not that I ever learned any of them. Those undergoing the process don’t really have a lot of time or energy for questions.”
Kellen’s voice was fairly different without his helmet on. The mechanical buzz that permeated every word was gone, and it made him seem…tired. Well, maybe drained was a better way to say it. It was thin and reedy, and he definitely seemed lesser than he did with the helmet on. Less intimidating, less in-control, and less of a machine. Chevalier thought it was a good change.
“Is the process painful?”
“It is…unpleasant. They give you a variety of tonics and capsules to minimize the physical discomfort, but there are things that are worse than pain.”
The taurolk shook his head and gave Chevalier a look that made him decide not to press the matter any further. Instead, he changed the topic of conversation to the topic of the treasure ship.
“Well, uh, anyways. What do you know about the Calypso Templar?”
“Hadn’t ever heard of it until you mentioned it.”
And so with the autopilot directing them safely towards their destination, the next few hours passed with Chevalier explaining the history of the ship and the various theories that had been put forth in an attempt to find it. Despite having heard all of this at least twice, Selene curled up on her side next to Chevalier’s foot and listened intently with a small grin on her face.
As they drew close to the dock, Chevalier trained, ate, and slept. Kellen sulkily stared through the monitors into space, and Selene took great pleasure in chattering at both of them about what she was going to do with her treasure once they found the Calypso Templar. The thought that perhaps they wouldn’t find it, that they would meet the same fate as all the other searches throughout the centuries and return to Junkheap with empty storage bays and a jump dock free of loot didn’t seem to cross the little dragon’s mind. Chevalier didn’t feel like mentioning it to her.
A jam of ships greeted them as they slowed to a stop in the ferry waiting area. Their comms were open and Chevalier heard a gaggle of languages from all around that he didn’t speak –mostly insectoid dialects made up sounds his throat wasn’t compatible with – and picked up snippets of a few that he sort of understood. From what he could tell, it was mostly the idle chatter of those with nothing to do but wait.
“How long until the ferry arrives?” Kellen asked. Chevalier checked his charts, punched some numbers into his computer and waited a few seconds until it finished calculating.He hated the tiny computer, hated the way it blinked, the way it beeped, and everything else about it. Unfortunately, he’d never had the head for paper calculations and so was forced to use it.
“Let’s see…uh, it looks like two and a half standard hours…ish.”
Kellen raised an eyebrow.
“Well, in that case I’m going to go and enter a rest cycle until then. Please wake me before we board the ferry.”
With a clank, clang and hiss, Kellen turned and clomped down the hall. Chevalier reclined in his chair and opened up his Imperial codex. He’d spend the wait time browsing random stories and articles. His incarceration had been an exception: normally reading time was hellishly hard to come across during a trip through space.
There was a ripple of energy and the Spitfire rocked back and forth as the ferry arrived. It was a whale ship, twenty waves long and painted green, with no fewer than five decks. Plenty of room for ships and cargo. A fleet of minnows launched from its massive bays and zipped out to the ships waiting. The din of voices coming over the general comms disappeared one by one as each ship discussed their cargo and intent with the ferry reps.
Chevalier turned off the codex and waited for the telltale beep that signified it was his turn to answer the standard list of questions that accompanied every trip on the ferries. When it came, he turned off the general comms and waited for his main monitor screen to flicker to life.
A haggard human with a thin mustache and eyeglasses appeared.
“Ship and Pilot name, please.”
“This is the Spitfire and my name is Chevalier.”
Normally, humans blinked at his name or asked him to repeat it, but this guy didn’t seem to care. Chevalier noticed the dark bags under his eyes and wondered how long it had been since the man last slept.
“Any cargo aboard that would be subject to Rule #3728: Quarantined and hazardous goods?”
“Uh, I don’t think so? What sort of goods are even covered by that?”
“Fruits and other foodstuffs mostly. Some types of fuel, batteries, and computers also apply. Any Satton-Haurs goods aboard your ship?”
“No, I don’t have any of that aboard. The only food I have has been approved for long distance travel by the Empire’s standards board. Same for everything else you listed.”
“Do you mind if I verify that? We had some exploding lpeppua fruits a few trips back that almost put the ferry out of commission, so we’re extra careful these days.”
Chevalier assented and the ferry rep sent over a small drone. It was ball-shaped and socketed itself to Spitfire’s side. After that, it beeped and buzzed as it scanned the ship’s manifest and verified the cargo for itself. Now, if Chevalier had been smuggling something, it wouldn’t have shown up on that scan, but he was on the up-and-up (this time) and the report was accurate.
“Thank you,” came the toneless, exhausted voice. “How many aboard your vessel? Will you be paying now or should we send the charge to an on-station account?”
“Three passengers. Please send the bill to the following bank address on Junkheap.”
“Jnk-HP07. It’s a space station.”
The sound of clicking was loud in the ship’s cockpit as the employee searched the listings of known planets and stations and then the man grunted and stopped typing once he found it.
“Thank you. We will have you go ahead and board right away. Please go to dock four on the stern side of the ferry. Have a pleasant trip.”
The screen died before Chevalier could answer, which was fine. He released the anchor field and directed his vessel toward the ferry’s bow. As he sailed alongside the massive ship, he truly felt tiny. Each of the plates that made up the ferry’s hull was twenty or thirty times the size of the Spitfire and there were too many plates to count. Each one was fastened by a string of rivets, and all of those were all bigger than he was. He’d seen and been on whale ships before, but the sense of awe at their size never left.
Chevalier landed the ship on the dock as directed and went to wake Kellen. The Chillsword was crouched in the corner of his quarters. He hadn’t put his helmet back on, and his unarmored head looked small and out of place compared to the hulking size of his pauldrons. His armor was dull and dark, the sigils and runes that covered it devoid of the light that Chevalier was used to seeing. Kellen did not look like a living creature asleep; instead he looked like a machine turned off and put into storage.
Kellen’s weapon had been wrapped in a material Chevalier didn’t recognize and stored in the corner, but when Chevalier let his hand hover over the blade he could still feel the chill coming through the fibers. Thankfully, it didn’t seem like the cold was freezing the ship at all. That would have been pretty bad.
“Hey, Kellen, can you hear me?”
The mercenary stirred immediately, his armor blinking back to life as he did so. He opened a sleepy eye and looked at Chevalier.
“I don’t feel any movement. Have we landed already?”
Chevalier nodded and Kellen stood up. A symphony of hissing creaks followed the motion, and Kellen’s shoulders clicked back into place. He moved his arms and legs slowly, as if testing to make sure that they were aligned properly and then went to pick up his sword.
“Sorry, you’ll have to leave it here,” Chevalier said. “Plenty of people who ride these things tend to not see eye to eye – or eye to stalk, appendage, or second head in some cases – with one another, and so the ferry company banned weapons for passengers.”
“That’s a foolish rule, how are we to protect ourselves if the ship is attacked during its voyage?”
“We don’t have to worry about it. The shipping lane is protected by an Aguelot fleet, and the ferry has plenty of its own guards. The shipping lanes haven’t been attacked in years. Don’t worry about it.”
Kellen paused for a moment and Chevalier could see the struggle to take his sword play out on the taurolk’s face. Finally, he relented. “If you say that it is safe, I won’t protest. However, I’ll remind you that the whaleships of my former employer also thought that they were safe from attack, and we both know how that turned out.”
Chevalier didn’t know how to respond, so he turned and left to disembark. Selene was waiting next to her bag with a grin on her face.
“I wonder what sort of yummy food I’ll get to try,” she said.
“I doubt that there’s anything aboard that’s much different from the normal ferry crud. It’s a transport vessel, not a gourmet ship.”
“Pshhh. You and I both know that there’s always some sort of shady little restauranteur type who sets up a tiny kitchen and fries their local delicacies up in the middle of the recreation area. The ferry guards never give then any trouble, and the stuff is usually pretty good too.”
Selene was right. While the selling of goods during the trip, including food, was technically forbidden by the ferry officials, the reality was that the ship was too large and carried too many passengers to effectively police. As such, all sorts of black market deals were made aboard the ferries, and contraband cuisine was almost certainly at the bottom of the list for enforcement.
Chevalier walked to the jump dock and pressed the button to open its outspace door. He stepped out onto the hard metal floor of the ship and looked around. He was in an absolutely massive docking bay, surrounded by ships of all makes and models, painted in every color and pattern imaginable. Other pilots and their crews were lurking in the shadows between vessels. Some talked and joked with each other. Some stood straight and still, silently surveying every other passenger they happened to see.
On his own, Chevalier didn’t attract much attention. After all, who would pay attention to a regular sized human with boring features and short brown hair? With so many other species and people to see? Basically nobody. However, Kellen was a different matter. He’d put his helmet back on and looked every part the menacing mercenary. However, without the weapon hanging from his back, he wasn’t immediately recognizable. There were plenty of groups other than Plagtos that favored big, bulky armors for their members. Luckily, other than a few wary glances, there was no trouble and Chevalier breathed a sigh of relief.
Selene poked her head up out the bag and pointed off towards the far side of the ship. “Let’s go that way! I smell meat!”
Chevalier and Kellen did as suggested, and made their way deeper into the maze of ships and passengers.
A few hundred feet behind them, a figure in gray weaved through the crowd.
<<: Previous Chapter Next Chapter: >>